I'm going to try something a little different this week. Instead of picking out stories on a few teams/players, I'm going to capsule each team in the league and where they stand. I need to break it up though, so we will start with the Eastern Conference and add in the West tomorrow:
New York Knicks (20-7): Perhaps the surprise team in the league, the Knicks are doing it with fantastic 3 point shooting, great turnover differential, and a hot start from Carmelo Anthony. Tyson Chandler has been magnificent, but as vjl110 wrote brilliantly about, there are reasons to expect some regression from them. Still, the Garden is humming for the first time in years, and the league must be pretty thrilled.
Brooklyn Nets (14-12): Spending an awful lot of money to be 14-12, but you could kind of see this coming. Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche(!) have been bright spots (which I wouldn't bet on for the future), but Joe Johnson (with his albatross contract) appears to be in decline, and Deron Williams is merely good, not great. The Nets are deep in useful players, but lack great ones. Possible they have set themselves up for a Hawks-like stretch of good but not distinguished seasons with Johnson, Williams, and Lopez forming their core.
Boston Celtics (13-13): Old. Actually, their remaining big three of Rondo (not so old), Garnett and Pierce are playing fairly well, though they latter two are clearly in decline. However, there is nobody else to pick up the slack. Their off-season additions (Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and Jeff Green) have not faired well, and the stars need more and more help as they age. Jared Sullinger looks like he might have a career, though.
Philadelphia 76ers (13-15): Made the huge trade for Andrew Bynum in the off-season, and...he has yet to appear on the court (though he apparently will be appearing in court at some point). This was foreseeable, as chronic bad knees don't go away. Without him, they are thoroughly mediocre, and are probably about to spend a ton of money on Jrue Holliday, which isn't going make them better. I have a feeling that Doug Collins has maybe one more year before he bows out.
Toronto Raptors (9-19): Amid complaints by the Least Valuable Player in the NBA, the Raptors have been a disappointment. I thought they had a chance to make a step forward. Perhaps they still do, as they are currently riding a five game winning streak, not coincidentally without the aforementioned Andrea Bargnani. The problem with starting 4-19, though, is a five game winning streak still leaves you staring up at almost everyone else. Bright spots include an impressive young front court with Amir Johnson and Ed Davis playing well and Jonas Valanciunas holding his own as a 20 year old rookie.
Chicago Bulls (15-11): Kudos to the Bulls for doing well without their MVP candidate. Their defense remains among the stingiest in the league, and credit must go to Tom Thibodeau for that. They simply don't give opponents good looks. Ever. Winning while their guard minutes are going to Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli, and Nate Robinson is pretty good.
Indiana Pacers (16-12): The Central Division is the home of defense apparently, as the Pacers also have found their footing with excellent defense. It took them a bit to get it going without Danny Granger, but George HIll, Paul George, and David West have formed a pretty good core even with Roy Hibbert's struggles shooting the ball this year.
Milwaukee Bucks (14-12): Also largely staying afloat thanks to an above average defense, the story for the Bucks so far has been the emergence of big man Larry Sanders, who is blocking shots and snaring defensive rebounds like his career depends on it. The Bucks are hanging in there despite mediocre play from their "star" back court of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, and disappointing early season from Ersan Ilyasova, who they signed to a lucrative extension in the off-season.
Detroit Pistons (9-21): The good news is that they didn't throw in the towel after starting the season on an eight game losing streak. Also, Andre Drummond has been a real bright spot as a rookie big man who many thought would struggle. That's about it, really, as the Pistons are pretty talent deficient, and in particular the back court combination of Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight just isn't good enough. Still, their expected win-loss is 13-17, so there has been bad luck involved as well.
Cleveland Cavaliers (6-23): A bad basketball team at both ends of the floor, it hasn't helped that Kyrie Irving has been in and out of the lineup with injury. But it's pretty bereft after Irving and Anderson Verejao. So far, the last two number four overall picks have not helped; Tristan Thompson is not showing much improvement over his rookie year, and Dion Waiters has begun his career as an inefficient chucker.
Miami Heat (18-6): Cruising. It can be jarring to see them lose, because you just don't expect it, but they are just cruising along with the best player in the league, a brilliant season so far from Chris Bosh, and a still hot Ray Allen. One senses that they don't bring it every night defensively, but they probably don't have to. There are depth and potential injury concerns, but a healthy team at the end of the year has to be their primary concern.
Atlanta Hawks (16-9): Good job by Danny Ferry. Realizing that they had to change things up to take the next step, Ferry spent the off-season moving pieces around to generate cap flexibility for next summer, (moving Joe Johnson's contract should merit a statue), but he didn't give up on competing this season. Lou Williams (ahem) has been one of the best free agent signings of the off-season, and he and Al Horford (another relative bargain) are their two major salary commitments for the coming seasons.
Orlando Magic (12-15): Not very good, but probably not as bad as we expected after they traded Dwight Howard and allowed Ryan Anderson to sign elsewhere. They are competing, though a light schedule has also helped. The good news is that they have a few young players who look like they will have careers: Nikola Vucevic is doing well in his 2nd year, and rookies Andrew Nicholson and Moe Harkless have done well for mid-first round picks. The bad news is that they have too much money tied up in mediocre veterans like Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, Al Harrington, Hedo Turkoglu, and Arron Afflalo. Wow that's a long list.
Charlotte Bobcats (7-20): After a brief shining moment early in the season when they got to 7-5 in a double OT win over the Wizards Thanksgiving weekend, the Bobcats have now lost 15 in a row. Terrible. I don't know what to say; Kemba Walker has been alright, I guess, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is having a nice rookie year. And that's about it. They can't shoot, they can't defend, and they can't rebound. That about sums it up.
Washington Wizards (3-22): At least the Bobs can be thankful for the presence of the Washington Wizards, to whom they appear to have handed the "historically terrible" baton. John Wall's season long injury absence isn't helping, but this is a terrible offensive team. They have nine players who have attempted 100 or more field goals so far, and five of them are shooting under 40%. Among those players, Kevin Seraphin has the highest FG% at 45%. The less said about the Jordan Crawford-Brad Beal back court the better.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at the Western Conference. This can also serve as a thread for today's games, and also feel free to tell us what you are doing on this holiday. I have Chinese food coming a little later, which is what we Jews do on Christmas. What about you?